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Monday, October 25, 2021

Agroecologists answer agriculture’s tough questions

The world needs to produce 70 to 100 percent more food over the next 50 years in order to match the growing global population while still keeping food prices manageable, according to the Food and Agriculture Association.

Scientists across the globe took this statistic to heart back in November, including UC Davis professor Tom Tomich. He and other agricultural experts compiled a list of 100 questions of importance for the future of agriculture. These questions, he said, provide a base for future researchers to improve global food systems.

“The questions are scientifically credible and broadly useful,” said Tomich, who contributed about 10 of the questions. “It’s going to take a dedicated team of people, working over the next 10 to 20 years, and then they can nail it.”

Tomich and other UC Davis researchers have also authored a similar publication as a supplement to the 100 Questions. The article, which has not yet been published, previews the growing field of agroecology, which coauthor Sonja Brodt said will provide a curriculum for students of agriculture and researchers in sustainability.

She defined agroecology as the science of applying ecological concepts to the design and management of agricultural systems. She added that by bringing together scientists from many disciplines, agroecology will be successful in answering some of the questions that Tomich and his colleagues outlined.

“We’re taking a look back at the last decade and seeing where it stands in terms of how it has dealt with certain issues,” said Brodt, who also works as the academic coordinator for the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. “And then we’re also looking forward to see the critical issues of agriculture and food production and how agroecology could interface with those issues.”

The preview of agroecology mimics the format of the 100 Questions, in the way that it defines the issues that the world faces as series of categories such as biodiversity, sustainability and the social impacts and aspects of agriculture.

“The complexity, and often lack, of information flow between scientists, practitioners and policy makers is known to exacerbate the difficulties, despite increased emphasis upon evidence-based policy,” the 100 Questions article states.

One example of the preview’s application of agroecology to the future of agriculture examines water availability in dry areas of the world, from California to Namibia. By looking at the network of problems these areas may have, agroecology can take a multi-step approach to solving those problems, Brodt said.

“We’re looking at all the areas that make agricultural systems resilient in times of drought,” she added. “That’s what makes agroecology different, because it’s not looking at the one thing that’s going to solve the problem, rather the network of conditions.”

One aspect of drought resistance that is often overlooked is the social aspect, she said.

“We can use this social perspective to understand how people communicate with each other, access information and deal with the change.”

In addition, the review also asks a few of its own questions that agroecology can collectively answer if all scientists contribute to the field. One question, for example, asks what level of self-reliance in food production optimizes human wellbeing at what scale and over what time period.

“Understanding the underlying ecological processes is going to allow us to apply our [California’s] information to other circumstances,” Tomich said. “We’ll be able to get our act together to address issues that are relevant for both the state and globally.”

LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

Important questions agriculturists must answer:

– What are the environmental consequences of drought-resistant crops in different locations?

– What are the best options for agriculture increasing food production while simultaneously reducing its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions?

– How can intensive livestock systems be designed to minimize the spread of infectious diseases among animals and the risk of the emergence of new diseases infecting humans?

– What are the most effective approaches for retaining women in research and extension systems and ensuring that they are fully involved in the design of research and extension systems to meet both gender-specific and wider needs?

Source: The top 100 Questions of Importance to the Future of Global Agriculture

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